It’s the debate that has raged on for as long as we can remember – real bodies vs muscular bodies. While some of us can’t get enough of gawping at guys with perfectly chiseled physiques, there are others who feel that the media obsession with gym bodies is damaging and encouraging people to become body fascists. Handsome student Tom Bald 21, argues that instead of looking at each other in terms of body types we should instead look inside at the personalities we have and speaks frankly about how he himself has occasionally worried that his body shape may have made him less desirable within the gay community…
Tom, there has been a lot of debate about body image within the gay community. Do you think there is too much emphasis on perfect muscled bodies?
Of course, I think that there is an unhealthy amount of muscle worship in today’s society, but by the nature of human attraction there are always going to be people who are seen as more attractive simply due to the way they look, or having a body that they put a lot of effort into. I don’t have a problem with people admiring muscled people, as ultimately there is no getting around the fact that they are nice to look at. The other problem I have with the debate, and even the term ‘muscled bodies’ is that is dehumanises the person down to their body as a form of currency, almost. If people are solely being judged on their bodies does that not raise a red flag? I think that someone’s personality can speak huge amounts more about that person than their body shape. I think that especially in the gay community (where labels exist such as bears, cubs, otters, and twinks), body types are emphasised more than they should be to streamline what your favourite body ‘type’ is, meaning that often people are overlooked purely because they aren’t what you’d usually go for, and I find that this behaviour is often more toxic than helpful.
Have you ever been concerned about your body shape?
I have definitely felt inadequate about my body shape – but it didn’t stem from a place of low self-confidence, more about worrying that I wouldn’t be desirable in the gay community and I’d be forever single. However, I feel that the celebration of alternative body types is increasingly more mainstream not only in gay culture but straight culture, with the rise of bears and dad bods being desirable sometimes more than muscular people. I think this ties in with the realisation in society that maintaining a Hollywood muscular body is an extremely unrealistic lifestyle for many people, and to have a ‘healthy body’ doesn’t automatically mean lean or muscly a ‘healthy body’ doesn’t automatically mean lean or muscley.
Do you think we need to see more body shapes out there?
I think there would be more space for more body shapes on clothing websites for example, as it provides more representation for people who don’t fit into society’s extreme body ideals. However, whilst there is always more room for such body types, it shouldn’t be labelled under ‘plus size’ or ‘alternative’ because in reality, a lot of people have those body shapes.
Indeed! Would you find a muscle guy attractive? Or does the look put you off?
Of course, I find muscley guys attractive. We are taught from a very young age that a muscled man is more masculine and stronger than someone who isn’t. However, whilst everyone is exposed to this narrative, and as people in society increasingly understand that a muscly figure is unrealistic and expensive, different body shapes become more attractive as they are seen as more attainable and realistic.
Have you ever been on a date when the clothes come off and a guy has been unhappy with your body – or actually loved your body because you weren’t sculpted?
I would say that no one I have ever dated or slept with has had a problem with my body. I think for someone to expect a six pack and be annoyed if there isn’t one would be extremely immature and someone who I wouldn’t want to be intimate with. I also have never commented on someone’s body shape once clothes come off – and in my opinion the sheer joyment of human interaction completely overrides anything imperfect about the person you are being intimate with.
When did you realise you were gay?
I grew up not knowing what gay was – but the idea of liking someone of the same gender was always looked at as weird or humourous because it was such an alien idea to everyone. It was when I was with my secondary school girlfriend when I realised that I had no attraction to female attributes, and I found myself pining after hot male celebrities on Tumblr in secret. This was all around the age of 15/16.. I only connected the dots of being attracted to men, and the concept of being ‘gay’ at this age- which I think was partly due to the poor standard of sex education which only catered to heterosexual relationships, meaning that I didn’t understand much about what being gay actually meant.
How long did you keep it to yourself?
I kept my ‘big dirty secret’ to myself until the end of secondary school and the start of sixth form. Why? Well, the vibe of sixth form was more mature, with way less room for juvenile bullying and slurs being thrown at me, which was down to differences in friendship groups and general ignorance of people at secondary school. Thankfully I never experienced any severe bullying due to the fact that I was gay, partly because I hadn’t come out, and partly due to the good security measures taken out by my school to deal with such issues.
You grew up in a rural area – was it hard t meet guys?
There weren’t many accessible gay bars in my town, the nearest one was a 20-minute drive away which wasn’t really ideal due to the struggle of wanting to drink but needing to be the responsible designated driver. Grindr and Scruff were my only options to talk to other gay guys near me, and I have made many friends from them.
What was your first gay experience like for you?
I found a lovely guy who lived about an hour away who drove which meant that he could either come to see me or I could drive to see him. We went on a few dates and I had my first kiss after our third date. I was a surreal and intense feeling, and I remember that night I couldn’t take the smile off of my face because I finally knew that this was what I wanted, and I felt validated and attractive, purely because this guy I’d met wanted to kiss me.
Was being gay something you were worried about? Did you go through a period of fighting the feelings?
I think every gay guy, when they are contemplating their sexuality and addressing the reality of being gay goes through a similar dilemma of wanting to be liberated and have a life of being gay, or to conform to society’s norms and keep your ‘secret’ for the rest of your life to avoid going through any hardship that may come from your sexuality. I remember vividly planning a life for myself – what kind of relationship I’d have with my wife, how many kids and pets we’d have, what kind of house we’d live in. The fantasy of living in a nice house with a happy family was almost enough to convince me not to come out, but obviously my feelings for other men made the straight fantasy seem tiny in comparison. I never went through a period where I didn’t want to be gay, I never tried to force myself to be straight, instead I just formed elaborate lies to cover up the fact that I was gay to try and fool people around me, which worked for a small while but I could sense that my closest friends weren’t buying it, which in a way was comforting because I knew they’d be easy to come out to, when the time came.
Did you have any gay role models when you were growing up/
Not really. I didn’t really embrace gay culture until my second year of university. However, I will say that my history teacher in school did a huge amount to help me come to terms with who I was, and what was right and fair to do in situations. A number of my teachers I had close relationships with in the time before I came out, and they all helped me shape my attitudes towards life in some way or another, so in a way, they were my gay role models for helping me in those ways.
Who were the people you were most worried to tell about being gay?
Well, my parents, for a number of reasons: they are the people who raised you, and I feel that the ultimate shame you can experience is disappointing your parents. Whilst I was never worried about being disowned or rejected, I always had the feeling in the back of my head that it would be such a shock and we’d never be able to see eye to eye about things again. Thankfully they both took it very well, and after a short period where we processed our feelings, we have a stronger relationship now because of it. I wasn’t worried about telling anyone else, as by the time I finally came out at 16, most of my friends were aware of the fact, and could see that I was hiding it as best as I could.
Did anyone reject me?
Thankfully no one rejected me, and I never once felt any shame about coming out. Everyone I told was extremely supportive and amazing, and I feel like my confidence to be myself has been encouraged by that positive outlook of people I came out to.
Did you throw yourself into the scene, and was it what I expected?
When I first started university, I didn’t make any effort to join in with Brighton gay scene events, as I wanted to retain my gayness but be around my straight friends in order to continue being the special and funny gay friend, which was fun for a while but when you’re a constant novelty it can wear down on your attitude and you crave being around other queer people. In second year, I made more of an effort to be a part of the gay scene in Brighton, firstly by going to a Bar Broadway, which was my local and favourite bar, making friends with the bartenders and customers, and developing a support base and a safe space to escape to if I ever needed solace. Once I was comfortable enough that I was accepted in the Brighton scene, I joined the Brighton and Hove Sea Serpents inclusive rugby club, and from there I learnt about sportsmanship and solidarity by working as a team in an intense game, and in addition I’ve made rugby friends across the UK which have proved to be invaluable when exploring a new city.
Do you feel the world is keeping up with the concept of gender fluidity?
Gender fluidity in my opinion is extremely important. It is constantly raising the conversation around gender, and forcing a lot of people to address their views about rigid gender roles which may be harmful. With the rise of the Transgender rights movement as well, I feel like we are increasingly moving into a world where someone’s gender shouldn’t be as important or defining as it used to. I definitely see the importance of ignoring unnecessary gender norms in society, and even by wearing a women’s garment, or even wearing a traditionally feminine colour – you can contribute to the progression of society into one which puts less emphasis on the importance of gender, and instead on the worth of people for what they are. I feel like its purpose in discourse at the moment is to change minds, and to make people realise that if a person identifies as a different gender, or no gender at all, doesn’t affect their accessibility to rights and basic respect. A huge topic at the moment, that is being used by arguments about gender progression, is the ‘Facebook has 72 genders’ argument. If you don’t need to use a specific pronoun provided then clearly you’re comfortable in your own body and you shouldn’t need to worry about how many genders Facebook provides. Many people have issues with which pronouns they should use, and why they should have to make the effort to use the right pronouns. My answer to this is that, especially if you’re unsure that someone is presenting as a specific gender, or no gender at all, a simple ‘what are your preferred pronouns’ discussion when you meet them will make all the difference in how you see them, and will validate that person in an extremely positive way. Making a fuss about the correct pronoun for someone is insulting and shouldn’t even be an issue to start with.
Do you think the likes of Piers Morgan has to move with the times?
I feel that Piers Morgan is a voice for everyone that disagrees or hasn’t been educated properly about certain issues, and whilst his arguing style can be counter productive and his opinions can be harmful to many people, putting the conversation out there to the British public on Good Morning Britain will get people thinking and talking about these issues, and once the conversation is being actively discussed, that’s when progress can happen. So, I would love for all transphobic and homophobic people to not be that, but we can’t expect that to happen overnight, after all activism is a lengthy process. Gaining rights is one thing, changing opinions and the discourse about an issue takes much more time.